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ODU, HU Students Continue Their Work on ‘Canopy House’ Entry for Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon

Solar Decathlon Canopy HouseAn artist's rendering of Canopy House

Sitting at desks arranged in a square inside Old Dominion University's Kaufman Hall, bright young students from two universities looked at laptops, tablets and smartphones. The subject matter was pretty low-tech, however: When was everyone free for a meeting?

"I can make it over here on Wednesday or Thursday evenings," one student says, looking up from his tablet. "Thursday is OK for our side, as long as it's after 6," another student chimes in. "Who can't make it Thursday?" someone asks. Four hands go up.

The logistics are complex, because these are extremely busy engineering and architecture students. But the meetings are vital. These young men and women are the team members for the joint entry by Old Dominion University and Hampton University in the 2013 Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Team Tidewater Virginia spent the summer and fall semesters working on its 2013 Solar Decathlon entry, known as Canopy House. The team consists of engineering students from ODU and architecture students from HU.

This is the second consecutive Solar Decathlon for which Team Tidewater has been chosen to compete. The team's Unit 6 Unplugged entry finished 14th in the 2011 competition. The leaders of this year's team have relied on the advice of the participants in the previous Solar Decathlon.

"It's such a large undertaking," said Horace Woolard, a mechanical engineering graduate student at ODU and engineering project manager for Team Tidewater. "Knowing what the previous team went through is very helpful, because they've told us what went well and what was more problematic."

Marcus Thomas, a fifth-year architecture major and assistant project manager for Team Tidewater, said the experience of working with engineers is invaluable. "We learn things from each other all the time. And this type of project-based learning is going to be so helpful when we enter the working world."

This year, the team will also work with students from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Department of Interior Architecture to design the interior of the home.

Team leaders for the ODU-HU group were in Irvine, Calif., earlier in January, touring the site for the 2013 Solar Decathlon, and receiving technical instruction for how the competition will run.

This year's design, Canopy House, was inspired by the forest canopy, which absorbs the sun's radiation and spreads light to those who live in the ecosystem. Various symbols of the canopy and trees will be visible in the design.

Canopy House also integrates universal design strategies. Universal design focuses on making the home accessible to people of all ages and those with disabilities. The home's features will include upgrades for the hearing and visually impaired. The team is currently evaluating voice recognition technology, fingerprint recognition and LED walls with sensors to make the home environment respond and adapt to the needs of the inhabitants. The home features an open floor plan that was designed to be wheelchair accessible. Pocket, sliding and bi-fold doors have also been included in the design for easier access throughout the home.

The team expects to start construction of the house on the HU campus in March. For additional information about the competition, visit the Team Tidewater website, www.canopyhouse.org.

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon challenges university teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are affordable, energy-efficient and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends cost-effectiveness, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

This year's final competition features 20 teams from colleges and universities across the United States and around the world, including Vienna University of Technology in Vienna, Austria, and Czech Technical University in Prague, Czech Republic.

The 2013 Solar Decathlon will be held Oct. 3-13 at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif.